From Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan:

SPOCK: The Kobayashi Maru scenario frequently wreaks havoc with students and equipment.
KIRK: Self-expression doesn't seem to be one of your problems. ...You're bothered by your performance on the Kobayashi Maru.
SAAVIK: I failed to resolve the situation.
KIRK: There is no correct resolution. It's a test of character.

From Star Trek (2009):

SPOCK: Furthermore, you have failed to divine the purpose of the test.
SPOCK: The purpose is to experience fear. Fear in the face of certain death. To accept that fear, and maintain control of oneself and one's crew. This is a quality expected in every Starfleet captain.

We know Star Fleet academy does some messed up things, like testing Wesley's ability to make life or death decisions in an emergency.

From Memory-Alpha:

Wes enters room 101 where the psych test will take place. It is empty except for a chair. At first nothing happens, then he hears a noise outside. He goes out, and the corridor is deserted. He hears shouting coming from the environmental lab. He goes in and sees a technician trapped under a pipe. Another technician is frozen with panic and won't leave. He frees the trapped man, and drags him out, but has only just enough time to get him out before the lab is sealed off. He sees Lt. Chang standing over him. He tells Wes that this was the psych test, confronting his fear of having to choose between saving one man and leaving another. This was because the same situation resulted in the death of his father. Wes had overcome his fear and made a similar choice; whom he chose was not as important as the fact he actually chose; Wes had passed the test.

That unexpected test seems a lot better than the Kobayashi Maru.

It seems every cadet already knows the Kobayashi Maru is an unbeatable scenario. How is it an effective training tool when it is common knowledge you will fail. It isn't a real life and death situation. How are they going to experience fear, in a simulated game, which they already know the outcome for?

  • One would hope that far in the utopian future it wouldn't be so easy to hack a military assessment simulation. Aug 7, 2014 at 18:10
  • 2
    Both of your quotes make it sound, to me, like the students don't know that the scenario is unwinnable until after they have been through it.
    – Rawling
    Aug 8, 2014 at 11:42
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    It may be just an allegory for modern military training. The US Air Force survival training, confinement training, and anti-torture training, some of which Gene Roddenberry may have been subjected to during his WWII experiences; no win situations that you just have to try to survive. Aug 10, 2014 at 9:29
  • Also, assuming cadets share their experiences, the test parameters would have to be altered each time it's run.
    – RobertF
    Sep 21, 2016 at 2:41

4 Answers 4


James T. Kirk: Bones, doesn't it bother you that no one's ever passed the test?

Leonard 'Bones' McCoy: Jim, it's the Kobayashi Maru. NO one passes the test, and no one goes back for seconds, let alone thirds.

There's a difference between knowing that no one has passed, and knowing that a test is impassable.

Bones' recognizes that the lack of people passing shows that failure is normal and to be accepted. While attempting is required, he does not question failure because of the ample evidence that others failed to defeat the test. Their failures demonstrate the apparent difficulty of the test to him, which ironically reinforces its validity to him.

What Kirk did was recognize that the pattern of failure implied that the test was impassable - literally designed such that passing was not possible while the test functioned properly. Once the potential for success via a fair attempt was invalidated, it allowed him to reinterpret the rules of the game - the only way to win was to cheat the cheater.

So the answer to your question is, the Kobayashi Maru still functions because people treat a test that they'll fail because it's really really hard differently than they treat an unfairly unbeatable test.


I am fairly certain no one literally knew it was unbeatable, just that no one had. To the creator (Spock), he obviously knew what the test was for. I'm not so sure anyone else did (until they were told or figured it out later). In the 2009 movie, remember, Kirk had to ask what the purpose of the test was.

It's like military training. The drill sergents aren't expecting you to become Superman when they yell at you and tell your dead tired self to go climb that obstacle in the rain, they are assessing how well you handle stress and adversity. If you crack, better on the training field than in real combat. They are there to make you fail, it's how you fail that is the important part.

If everyone did ever know that there was no point in beating it, I would imagine the test would become useless. It's a lot easier to face failure when you know it's supposed to happen anyway. (GG guys, it was an honor, who wants to get lunch?) You need to think you can pass it and experience the actual failure of not doing so.

  • which makes sense that no one know as they currently no longer use the kobayashi test and have changed into newer tests. once your test is figured out... make a new one.
    – Himarm
    Aug 7, 2014 at 17:37

Noone knows it's designed to be unbeatable. The commander prototype that Starfleet seems to value is that of "I can succeed where all before me have failed". That would seem to encourage candidates to take the test anyway, even though the test has been surreptitiously designed to defeat all challengers. It could indeed be a bit messed up - cultivate a "I can do anything" mentality and then hit it with "but you can't do this!".


In which film series?

In The Wrath of Khan, it's clearly explained that the intended purpose of the exercise is to see how people perform in a no-win scenario, and when facing death. This is fairly interesting and makes sense in a number of ways. Defeat and disaster happen sometimes, and one might prefer one's officers to have experienced this possibility, and to have considered ways one can respond, discover undesirable reactions to avoid, and so on. As Kirk says, it's a "test of character", which may also inform Star Fleet's selection of officers it wants for which roles, as how a commander responds in the worst of situations may be one of the more important outcomes of such a selection. Breadth of experience may hasten development of mature officers, too. Unlike other exercises, the point is not success, as that's been deliberately removed.

In the 2009 film, like a lot of the series, things are superficially similar but weirdly reinvented and changed ... I wrote an opinion on it, but on reflection, I'm recanting it because I'm at a loss to make good sense of the new films.

  • Spock wasn't a cadet in the movie. He was an instructor and held the rank of Commander.
    – Andy
    Feb 8, 2015 at 0:48
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    The new films make no sense. Spock teaching Kirk at the academy, it’s as ridiculous as Smallville where everyone in the DC universe went to school together...
    – Gaius
    Jan 12, 2018 at 21:55

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